A Brazilian couple who had finished their tour of Whakaari/White Island minutes before it erupted saw people lying on rocks and heard screaming.
The volcano erupted on Monday afternoon leaving six people dead, with another eight missing and believed to be dead.
Speaking to The Project, Aline Moura and Allessandro Kauffmann said they had just boarded a boat after taking a tour of the volcano – something that had been on their bucket list.
The volcano erupted ten minutes later.
READ MORE:A history of White Island eruptions: New Zealand’s most active volcanoWhite Island tourist captures dramatic footage of volcano eruptionWhakaari: This is the family that privately owns White IslandWhakaari/White Island: ‘Fantastic team work’ in treating severely injured patients
Moura told The Project they did not realise how serious it was until they could not see the island at all.
“The captain turned the boat around and at first we didn’t understand what was happening or why were were going back to the island,” Moura said. “Our first reaction was ‘run away’.”
The couple saw people lying on the rocks and the water was white.
Kauffmann said everybody was covered in ash and everything was grey.
The other boat was covered in ash and the pair saw people who were “very seriously injured”.
As the boat got closer to the island, the pair heard screaming, crying and people calling for help.
Moura told The Project that everyone on their boat was very quick to help.
Crew began doing first aid and people began taking off their jackets and tops to keep those who had been injured warm.
“When we didn’t have any more clothes [to give], we just tried to hug everyone that we could touch [to keep them warm],” she said.
The pair described the people who had been injured as “brave and strong”.
“They were incredible. We want to give our love and prayers to them. We hope everyone is going to be okay.”
Forty-seven people were on the Bay of Plenty volcano at the time of the eruption.
On Tuesday evening, police said the bodies of the five people initially confirmed dead were being taken to Auckland, with post-mortems to be carried out on Wednesday. A sixth person had died after being treated in hospital.
A complex disaster victim identification process was under way.
“The nature of the injuries that people have suffered is severe and means identifying them is a complex matter.” police said.
Addressing Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that while recovery operations were the first priority, larger questions about the event would have to be answered.
The families of the victims would be “forever linked to our nation”, Ardern said.
Speaking of the many Australians involved, she said: “Our family in Australia has been heavily impacted. We feel the pull of our bond acutely at this time.”
Police said those involved were from seven countries – 24 from Australia, two from China, four from Germany, one from Malaysia, five from New Zealand, two from the UK and nine from the US.
WorkSafe has opened a health and safety investigation and police are investigating on behalf of the coroner.
- Timaru burns survivor's message to Whakaari/White Island eruption survivors
- Whakaari/White Island eruption: Cruise 'excitement turned into horror'
- Seventeenth person dies from New Zealand's White Island eruption
- Whakaari/White Island: Up to 600 Middlemore surgeries delayed after eruption
- Whakaari/White Island: Gas masks shielded lungs, surgeon believes
- Whakaari/White Island should be bought off private owners, law expert says
- Whakaari/White Island: Official death toll rises to 17
- 'Amazing soul': Whakaari/White Island nurse killed in car crash
- Whakaari / White Island: Police admit bodies may never be found
- Whakaari/White Island: Recovery mission in 'hands of the sea' say police